By Arielle Egozi
I talk about vaginas a lot. As a woman who has one (remember, not all women do!), I’ve had to work really hard to unlearn the shame, guilt, and sheer horror of owning one that I was taught and expected to have — nevermind everything that actually does come with having a vagina. I’m a writer and producer, and almost every project I take on relates back to the experience of being a femme in society while trying to decenter the conversation exclusively around white cis women. It’s taken me years to unlearn what I have, so I do my work in the hopes that others might get there faster.
I used to *hate* getting my period. I felt ugly and bloated and useless — to *boys*. I was centering my own experience around what I felt men thought (because aren’t their opinions the ones we grew up being told we had to care about?).
I had a boyfriend in college who was really vocal about his disgust and disapproval of blood coming out of a vagina. Because I knew he didn’t want to have sex with me on those days, I figured it was pointless to see him during my cycle every month. I would ask myself, “Why would he want to hang out with me if he thinks I’m gross?
I remember one day I was sitting on the edge of his bed, careful to not sit too comfortably since my flow is heavy and I didn’t want to stain his sheets. I got up and saw there was a little red mark where I had just been perched. Shit. I covered it the best I could and left quickly, kind of panicking. I’ll never forget seeing him the next day, when he told me how he had been totally grossed out by a blood stain he thought I had left on his bed, until he realized it must have been his own from a cut on his toe — blood he was totally fine with.
I rolled my eyes internally because oookay, bro, my vaginal blood is *definitely* cleaner than your crusty toe blood… but still, I felt a mix of relief and full-bodied shame. Thank goodness he didn’t realize it was me, I thought.
It was around the time of this anxiety-filled incident that I was diagnosed with PCOS, and I stopped getting regular periods. For years after this diagnosis I had all the PMS symptoms without any of the blood — and I can’t tell you how much I missed it. I started feeling so silly for ever having taken my period for granted, let alone letting men dictate how I felt about my body. I hoped that one day I would have a regular period again, and eventually I did.
One recent Sunday morning I woke up to blood smeared all over my leg. The smell was powerful, and as I looked down on myself I found my body and the stains on it absolutely mesmerizing. I had a deep impulse to take a picture and share the happiness and power that I felt with the world — something I’d never considered before.
I was nervous as I wrote the caption on the picture I would post to Instagram, knowing I could always back out, and knowing that I wouldn’t. It hit me in waves how I had spent so much of my life disgusted by my own body, simply because others were disgusted by it. I realized I’d spent the past 5 years talking about periods and sex and bodies, yet I *still* had such an apprehension to share the rawness of mine.
Women’s bodies are available everywhere to digest. Billboards, song lyrics, Facebook’s sidebar. On Instagram’s Discover page, you’ll see tiny squares filled with women — arching backs, bikinis, puckered lips. Millions of likes and comments but there is almost nothing known about them — not their stories, not their desires, sometimes not even their names. On my account, I share images that readily get reported, even when they don’t violate any social media application’s rules. Usually, it is images of women taken by female photographers. Women dressed in cotton underwear, their hands reaching down to explore. Women sitting naked together covered in glitter, their faces staring straight at the camera in seriousness, not sexiness. Women being women without having to perform for men.
I shared the picture of my leg covered in my menstrual blood to add to the story of the female body that is framed for male consumption: This part of the narrative is messy, creative, and full of healing. The part of the story that should be valued as much as any other; often suppressed by a patriarchal society that finds it convenient to forget the power of this blood.
I shared that picture in celebration of the breast tenderness, back pain, and seven days of blood that comes out of me once a month.
I shared a picture of myself the way I see myself, and there isn’t any shame in that.